Election Day. I woke up on election day with a nervous pit in my stomach. After more than a year of contentious debate, of divisive and ugly rhetoric, we had reached the day of conclusion. My optimism, as always, was stubborn, and I worked to channel my nervous energy into hope, suggestions of empathy. I wondered, for a moment, how my nieces would react at learning of a female President.
The night of the election, surrounded by friends, I worked hard to appear calm. When Indiana was called for Donald Trump, one of the two first states to do so, my head dropped. Being a Hoosier – loving Indiana for its people, our work ethic and warmth – has often meant shaking my head at how reluctant we are to accept progress.
As election results rolled in, my calm facade began to give way to something else entirely: hopelessness. For more than a year, I have not allowed myself to believe or accept that our country would ever buy in to the messages of Donald Trump. ‘Who is really fooled by this man?’ I asked myself. ‘Evangelicals cannot believe he is Christian. Small-town Midwesterners cannot truly believe he cares about their circumstances. Women couldn’t possibly cast their vote in his direction. Pro-lifers can’t possibly believe a man who says he ‘grabs women by the p****’ has a moral objection to abortion.’
But it happened: The vote rolled in, and I could be optimistic no further. The people of the United States truly saw this man, his divisive rhetoric and empty promises and fear-driven following, and said ‘Yes, this is who we choose.’
That night, before the result had been called, I drove friends home in near-silence. I walked into my hall, greeting students and nodding, and stepped into my apartment. There, I sunk into my couch, leaned forward, and wept.
I know, now, what it is to live through a historical moment I would not have chosen.
The wounded healer. Today, at a committee meeting, I asked a few colleagues how it’s been supporting students through the aftermath of a Trump victory. ‘What are you hearing?’ I asked. ‘Fear? Hope?’ After some discussion, we moved into a different question: ‘How has it been supporting students while we, ourselves, are processing?’
A colleague, Melanie, offered up something she’d heard: ‘It’s hard to be the wounded healer.’ My heart swelled in pain, the phrase resonating.
On the night of the election, following a cry, I responded to a message from a student. The student, belonging to the LGBT+ community, was hurting. ‘How could this happen?’ they asked. I realized, in that moment, that eyes were on me. Eyes are on me. I will share my pain, I decided, but I will also search for hope. The next morning, said student stood on campus holding a sign and offering hugs to those who passed. This is precisely what it looks like to push light into the darkness.
Yesterday, the day after the election, a colleague and I coordinated an opportunity for students to debrief together. Called ‘After the Vote,’ it encouraged individuals of all perspectives to come pull threads at the questions on their minds. Student staff members were asked to facilitate, on a volunteer basis.
They showed up. Nervous, uncertain, honest, they showed up and shared. These photos, to me, are what hope looks like. Later, when debriefing with the RAs, Dani (my friend and colleague) and I stood at the brink of tears.
Why it hurts. I have seen, in the aftermath of Election Day, some question as to what all the fuss is about. ‘Give him a chance,’ I’ve seen Trump supporters say, ‘The sky is not falling.’
First of all, there is validity to the message that the world is not over. Whether it’s comfortable for us to acknowledge or not, there are those among us who have interpreted this victory as a true vanquishing of hope. Tears have been spilled, friendships broken, and suicide hotlines continue to handle a wild swell of traffic. I am not opposed, whatsoever, to messages of hope.
But let’s not invalidate the fears, worries, and concerns of those who are crying out in fear, worry, and concern. On Election Day, the Ku Klux Klan stood on a bridge in North Carolina, endorsing a Trump Presidency. The very term following a landmark Supreme Court case that guaranteed our right to build a future with the person we love, queer people face the promise of moving backwards. Immigrants and the children of immigrants were watching in groups, in families. Muslims and women and people with disabilities, and on and on. ‘What does this mean for us?’ is a very real, very scary question being faced by a great many human beings.
For me, as I sat on my couch and wept, my heart stung at the realization that, for so many people in the United States, the loss of my rights were less painful to conceptualize than a Hillary Clinton victory. For many, the pain I am experiencing – and the pain that may be ahead as I watch progress and hope be dismantled at the hands of the openly hateful – was not too great an obstacle to casting a vote in Donald Trump’s direction. I needed to feel my way through that pain, through the knowledge that people whom I have loved and with whom I have worked and for whom I have advocated cast their vote for a living symbol of going backwards.
The fears and worries and concerns are valid, whether seeing the response to them gives you guilt or not. We will need to make our way forward, it’s true, but give people time to mourn. Many of us are grappling with the reality that there are many to whom we don’t actually matter.
Bravely forward. But there are so many to whom we do actually matter. Perhaps it takes a misstep like this one, a surprise of this magnitude, for us to stop talking over one another’s experiences and listen. Perhaps, to an extent, we have all been the Donald Trump yelling ‘wrong’ into the microphone. There is a middle class of white people in small towns clamoring to be remembered. There is a criminal justice system disproportionately populating our prisons with black men. Queer youth are still facing the loss of support systems and, too often, the total loss of hope. We need to open gateways to empathy, to sharing honestly and listening earnestly. Damn it, someone has to care.
Maybe it won’t all be as bad as it seems. Maybe Donald Trump will do fine. To me, that would necessitate him going back on just about everything he’s promised, but he has a long track record of doing so, so maybe he’ll keep that up.
What I can tell you, with certainty, is that I woke up on the morning after feeling more resolved than ever to push light into the dark places of the world. ‘If I preach being brave and empathetic,’ I thought, ‘than what better time to role model those qualities?’ Some moments I find myself doing damn well; other moments, I’m working through some of the knots. I am, and we are, a work-in-progress.
Friends, loved ones. Queer people. People of color. Women. People with disabilities. Muslims. Immigrants and children of immigrants. Friends with families affected by job loss. People of faith, and humanists. Humans who want to work for a better world. I love you, you matter, and I will stand with you. We must be together in this. I believe our best way forward is through, together.
We will be brave. We will be honest. We will keep an open heart and mind. We will commit to growth together.